My work with horses embodies three principles:
- Positive reinforcement: I teach with the food and a reward marker. Training, by definition, either steals from the horse’s flight response (negative reinforcement) or taps into the seeking system and food acquisition (positive reinforcement). When we exploit the flight response, the triggered emotional state is one of mild fear and scarcity, energy will run out. When we engage the seeking system, the triggered emotional state is one of interest and abundance, there is more food available. I want to classically condition abundance and joy in my horses. It should be a visible by-product of having a good process and we call it a “ven animal”.
- Biomechanical alignment: My horses are taught to move with correct biomechanics in order to remain sound and strong. You cannot break the laws of biomechanics without damaging the horse. These laws are immutable no matter what kind of horses you train or what method you teach with. Respect for the physical animal in front of me is paramount.
- The way a behavior is performed is more important than the behavior itself: A motor pattern created in tension, confusion or with incorrect posture has no value. Initial acquisition of a skill is exciting, but there are usually fine details to be shaped before the horse can perform with full confidence, balance and joy. These can include a deeper reinforcement history, breaking down component parts into smaller pieces and rehearsal to build confidence. Additionally, much of good horse training consists of physical skills that need to be layered in progressively as the horse is athletically prepared.